Reser­va­tion ranch­ers strug­gle to keep buffalo alive amid protests

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

The anti-pipe­line pro­test­ers de­scend­ing by the hun­dreds on ru­ral North Dakota in sup­port of the Stand­ing Rock Sioux aren’t nec­es­sar­ily stand­ing with Bev­erly Fis­cher. Or her dead buffalo.

An en­rolled tribal mem­ber, Mrs. Fis­cher and her hus­band, Ernie, are con­vinced that at least 13 of their bi­son have been butchered, bar­be­cued and eaten by some of the hun­dreds of ac­tivists tres­pass­ing through the live­stock pas­tures of Can­non­ball Ranch since the protests erupted in Au­gust.

In one day, the Fis­ch­ers had three buffalo drop dead af­ter hun­dreds of pro­test­ers on High­way 1806 pan­icked the herd in a clash with Mor­ton County law en­force­ment.

“They’re honk­ing their car horns. Then the po­lice are there, and the pro­test­ers are yelling and scream­ing and chant­ing, and the buffalo are across the ditch in the pas­ture, and they’re just run­ning be­cause they don’t know what to do,” said Mrs. Fis­cher.

“They’re just run­ning in big cir­cles through­out the pas­tures,” she said. “By the end of the day, three were gone.”

The Fis­ch­ers’ plight echoes those of lo­cal ranch­ers, farm­ers and oth­ers whose strug­gle to main­tain their liveli­hoods has gone largely un­no­ticed as pro­test­ers up­end the ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties along North Dakota’s south­ern bor­der.

The Fis­ch­ers, who live on the Stand­ing Rock Sioux reser­va­tion in Sel­fridge, North Dakota, also il­lus­trate the grow­ing un­ease within the tribe over the ac­tivists who have in­creas­ingly shrugged off the chair­man’s call for peace­ful and prayer­ful op­po­si­tion to the project.

“There are a lot of lo­cal peo­ple be­ing vo­cal now that don’t want these pro­test­ers around,” Mrs. Fis­cher said.

The North Dakota Stock­men’s As­so­ci­a­tion has of­fered re­wards for in­for­ma­tion on the rash of live­stock depre­da­tions dur­ing the past two months, in­clud­ing butchered and burned cows and bi­son, horses and cows shot and killed, and at least 30 miss­ing cat­tle.

The per­pe­tra­tors have not been caught, and a num­ber of ac­tivists have de­cried the live­stock deaths.

With as many as 2,500 peo­ple liv­ing in dif­fer­ent camps with dif­fer­ent philoso­phies, how­ever, the lo­cals are con­vinced that some of the more bel­liger­ent pro­test­ers are re­spon­si­ble.

“These have been cruel and sense­less acts against an­i­mals and their own­ers,” as­so­ci­a­tion chief brand in­spec­tor Stan Misek said in an Oct. 28 state­ment. “We are com­mit­ted to find­ing out who is re­spon­si­ble and bring­ing forth jus­tice for the vic­tims.”

For ranch­ers like the Fis­ch­ers, catch­ing those re­spon­si­ble for harm­ing their live­stock is al­most im­pos­si­ble. They live about 43 miles from the Can­non­ball Ranch, where their herd of more than 600 bi­son graze over a vast ex­panse of 8,700 leased acres.

“Some days, we would get three phone calls a day: ‘You’d bet­ter get up here; your buffalo are be­ing chased,’” said Mrs. Fis­cher. “They keep rid­ing up from the south of the ranch into the pas­tures where the buffalo are sup­posed to be graz­ing. So our an­i­mals are be­ing stressed from be­ing chased.”

Even those ac­tivists who mean no harm are caus­ing stress for the bi­son, not to men­tion the Fis­ch­ers.

“You’ve got peo­ple try­ing to walk up to them in the pas­tures be­cause these peo­ple are so peace­ful and paci­fistic, they think the buffalo aren’t go­ing to charge them,” said Mrs. Fis­cher. “We’re just damn lucky no one’s been killed yet.”

For what­ever rea­son, the pro­test­ers have also made it their mis­sion to help the buffalo es­cape by cut­ting the pas­ture fences.

“They would just walk out there a mile to where the buffalo are, cut fences, let our buffalo out,” said Mr. Fis­cher. “And then we started see­ing within the last month, month and a half, re­ports of bi­son get­ting butchered. We have re­ports of them catch­ing bi­son. There’s video of them chas­ing four of them and butcher­ing them.”

In the spring, the Fis­ch­ers had 635 buffalo, but there’s no telling how many will be left once the roundup be­gins. Al­ready a herd of 30 bi­son, mainly calves and older an­i­mals, is miss­ing.

“That herd is in the wind. We don’t know where it went,” said Mrs. Fis­cher.

VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Bev­erly and Ernie Fis­cher, shown with grand­daugh­ter Jalia, have lost more than a dozen bi­son as a re­sult of the Dakota Ac­cess pipe­line protests.

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